Independent music venues are hanging on by a thread. Let’s not let them go without a fight.

Paradise Rock Club, Boston. Photo by John Phelan and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported without change to the original work.

Friends, I love rock clubs. I love squeezing up to the stage, shoulder to shoulder with a mob of fellow music fans. I love hearing the squeal of an electric guitar through the mains of a big sound system. I love getting as close as possible to my favorite artists, watching and learning as they ply their trade onstage.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say the pandemic threatens to annihilate that experience for the foreseeable future. Independent music venues face extinction, and we have to do everything we can to see them through this crisis.

Virtually all music venues, from stately auditoriums to sticky dives, have had to scrap their entire calendars, and their futures are stuck in limbo.

Here’s a passage from a May 6 New York Times article by Ben Sisario:

“This is an existential crisis,” said Dayna Frank, the owner of First Avenue in Minneapolis, a regular spot for Prince, the Replacements and Hüsker Dü that opened in 1970. “Independent venues have no financial backstop. We do not have corporate parents. There are no financial resources we can turn to.”

The same article imagines a future in which concert venues will have to reduce their capacities and install privacy shields in whatever post-pandemic world emerges. One venue owner quoted in the article floats the idea of dividing audiences into sections for fans who can prove they possess antibodies for the novel coronavirus –  a possible indication of immunity – and sections for those who don’t have antibodies.

In Iowa, Codfish Hollow in Maquoketa has launched a GoFundMe in the hope of raising $25,000 to help pay bills. Lefty’s Live Music in Des Moines recently completed a GoFundMe campaign that brought in over $5,000.

From Codfish Hollow’s GoFundMe page: “Our monthly bills are still due and although, as of right now, the few shows we had scheduled are postponed and not cancelled, we still have to pay the bands and the bills. We have no way to make money without people in the barn – alcohol, merch and ticket sales are our only sources of revenue.” 

More than 1,200 venues and promoters have banded together since the beginning of the pandemic to form an advocacy group called the National Independent Venue Association. NIVA is currently lobbying Congress for federal help for independent venues as the House and Senate hammer out another round of stimulus spending.

I spent several years working as a communications director for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, so I’ve seen my share of politics. I changed careers shortly after the birth of my son, and I’ve limited my political activity since then to voting and reading the news every day. But seeing something I so dearly love dangling by the thinnest of threads motivated me to reenter the political realm. I sent letters to each member of my congressional delegation urging them to remember independent music venues when they consider further stimulus spending as a result of the pandemic.

I don’t know what difference it will make, but my conscience demanded it. If you love live music like I do, please consider doing the same.

There will always be music as long as there are humans, and I take comfort in that. But I’m far less confident about the future of local rock clubs, which are among my preferred ways of experiencing music. I can’t imagine my community without dedicated spaces for musicians and music fans to gather and celebrate. Iowa stands to lose much of its cultural and artistic tradition if we don’t act to help our independent music venues survive this pandemic.


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